It happened that Ursula also felt inspired to record herself in a video, performing her poems from our 2015 Girl in Suitcase performance. She has done them back to back, overlaying her voice and some musical sounds delightfully, witchily I think, with dreamy sandscape shoreline intersecting with her shadow. We are enjoying revisiting, reconnecting, recreating together, apart. Please, enjoy her voice, words and images!
The photo at the top of the post is of Ursula performing ‘The Moon’ in the same ‘Girl in Suitcase’ show referred to.
My counselling classes became the highlight of my week, getting to know a reasonable cross-section of people from my area. Women outnumbered men, and there were not people in their 60s and older, but otherwise there was a fair amount of diversity. The teaching of the course had to be covid adapted to ensure safety as far as possible. That meant some mask wearing, distancing, tables and chairs disinfected before the class, and a one way system around the building.
We got used to checking-in, in a big circle at the start of each class. Sharing where we were at, how we were feeling and what had been going on for us. We also got to practise little sessions of counselling each other, taking it in turns in small groups. It requires being open with strangers and in some ways you may experience a fast-track of getting to know each other. To do this course at any time could be transformative, including the accompanying regular journals and a couple of essays. In a pandemic and a lockdown, it was heightened, because we were spending more time with each other, than many of us were with our families and other loved ones. During the Autumn term the course occupied me substantially – practically, emotionally, even spiritually. I mean I engaged on a pretty deep level, probably because I am familiar with being open in performances. As well, unlike most class members, I wasn’t working much nor do I have a family to look after, so I had a lot of space and time for the course. I never missed a class, and I enjoyed learning about the theory of counselling and history of its development, really appreciating being able to borrow books from the college library.
The course teaches some useful ideas and techniques, about how to listen and respond; how to improve one’s empathic connection with others. While some of that capacity is innate, it can be developed. I think the course could be helpful for many many people. I discovered during my time on the course, that several of my friends had done it, or a version of it at some point in their lives. Some had pursued it further, all the way to become counsellors, but most had simply found it useful personally or towards other vocations. I could see why. In a small yet profound way, it can teach you how to do some therapy on yourself. It could help you notice issues you weren’t so aware of, and re-assess your self-image, perhaps with an openness to development. It can subtley alter the way you relate with others, in a positive way.
This was all very good stuff and for a few months I thought how fortunate that the pandemic had afforded me this opportunity I would otherwise not have considered, and which turned out to be so fruitful. Our class were blessed to have a very sweet tutor who made us all feel so welcome and that she was interested in us. At least that was my experience, and such an attitude is exemplary of what we learnt to call ‘unconditional positive regard’, a required element of being an effective counsellor, according to the person-centred approach.
The teacher is very important on a personal level with this course I thought, as in the students’ journals and essays, they must open up about intimate aspects of their lives and personal histories. These things are not revealed to the other class members necessarily, but the teacher holds the whole class together. It was a very special experience, and I realised I found it healing because I had not felt so comfortable or ready to open up at university or drama school. So my last experience of education was not so ideal. With drama, similar to counselling, you do have to get on with the other students for it to work well. They are not subjects you develop particularly in isolation. Except perhaps for downtime in between, absorbing what has been learnt.
Sometimes I compared notes with my friends who’d studied counselling before. In what ways were their courses similar to mine, and what had they found difficult? In respect of the latter, one artist friend who’d gotten far further in the training than I, observed acutely, that as an artist her responses to case study examples given on the course, were not always what was considered correct. Her vision was perhaps too wide, when a more selective perspective may be sought to usefully apply counselling in our society.
Ethics are a set of guidelines and some rules; and I too struggled with taking on some of the practice. The confidentiality breach which requires breaking the confidence of a client because they mention certain elements of danger or illegality, for example, means that some people living outside the law, may never reasonably open up to a counsellor. They might simply have been born into that predicament, but then they are easily trapped there. I remembered coming across such characters in my past, and their absolute fear of social services. It’s not an easy issue to resolve; there has to be safeguarding for a lot of good reasons. But I couldn’t help identifying with those isolated on the wrong side of the law. Perhaps my empathy was not the right sort?
It became apparent that taking such a stance may not be helpful, and possibly made me less relateable to other class members. On the other hand, talking about the issues, opening up that conversation was valuable for us and I felt supported. Level 2 is just a very beginning towards counselling so I had a lot more to learn. After Christmas it was all online and the transition felt awkward for me. I easily completed that first level (oddly number 2), but found building trust and further connections really challenged online, so decided not to continue. It had been an extremely valuable, precious encounter that would stay with me. For now, however, I felt called to return to art, and the garden!
I have been writing that my first performance was 12 years ago. That’s not strictly true. On my drama school course, in 2004 I created a 20 minute piece as a final project. It was in a way, a very early version of ‘Growing Roots’, drawn from the same material. It had even involved an ex-boyfriend of mine from the time of the narrative, so that he could tell some of his story too. I think I probably wanted some solidarity, because it felt scary and brave to be so open at that time. I do have a recording of that show somewhere, but it’s one of those things I find cringey to watch now! I was still so relatively early on in my processing of the events I was describing. Some things just take years.
Just now I watched a documentary film by Benjamin Ree called ‘The Painter and the Thief’. Two paintings by a Czech woman artist – Barbora Kysilkova – living in Norway, were stolen from a gallery. When the thief is caught, she gets to know him and develops a friendship. He becomes her muse, and she gets to know something of the mind of a junkie to the extent that both grow considerably from their bond. His ways were familiar to me; he reminded me of people I used to know. Seeing the film I identified strongly with the protagonists. It made me think – after writing this post it seemed to encapsulate my feeling – I would rather be free as an artist to build friendship or artistic connection where I am drawn to with whoever, than have to operate by the rules of the confidentiality breach. There are other ways too in which one may have to curb potential friendship in a counselling relationship, in order to be professional. I’m not sure if I’m ready for that (or ever will be). I feel like, because of who I have been, I must keep myself open, and not attempt to consent to a system of rules that could crush part of my spirit. I think that sounds harsh, and there are lots of amazing artist-counsellors out there, and counsellors who know how to negotiate these straits without compromising their soul. But for me that’s what I feel for now. Very likely, if the course had stayed in the classroom, my experience would be quite different.
On the course I reflected about how I have had therapy a couple of relatively brief times in my life. It made a difference in a gentle way, and when I was in my final year at drama school, it did support my stability. At this time it was part of a sort of informal package, because it took place at a centre which held a women’s day on the same day. Fortuitously I didn’t have a class that day and was able to connect with lots of more diverse women than at college, in a healing, supportive environment. I think that aspect helped just as much as the counselling itself, but for sure the counselling was a backbone.
I’ve been a life model for a number of years now and fancied a change. I’d like to work with children but have no such qualification beyond babysitting as a teenager and modelling occasionally. One option is Teaching Assistant, so I looked it up and (a) the job description wreaks of “normal” job in a way I’m not sure I can handle any more. (b) The pay rate is low. I mean I often refuse that rate as a life model. I can earn a lot more as a life model, and to some extent being freelance can negotiate my own terms.
There is so much freedom and variety in my job and this mere cursory glance at another option made me appreciate that again. For a job looking after children, committing to regular hours for weeks on end, only minimum wage (or London Living Wage?) applies. Disgusting!
On the other hand I was thinking about what’s been bugging me as a life model recently. Certain jobs were making me uncomfortable. Even if I felt appreciated for my talent as a model, I also felt judged, subtly. These are jobs where I happen to fit into the artists’ idea of attractiveness in a body for them to draw. I am slim, a bit curvy, young(ish!), fit, reasonably flexible, not bad looking… and I know how to behave as life model in the way that is desired. I don’t just mean turning up on time and holding poses. I know how to engage with the artists and make suitable conversation. They want something reflected back to them which is how they see themselves as artists. They want to feel appreciated and to feel at ease with you.
What was bothering me was, these jobs while often better paid, do not always feel ethical. I know that they never book a fat model, an old model or a male model for example. They have asked me to recommend models and I’ve connected them with various. Not all have gone down too well. One was too old, too political and possibly opinionated. Another was an astrophysicist by day and they didn’t find her conversation stimulating in the way they wanted from their life model. Perhaps she hadn’t switched off yet from the day job!
At another such group I enquire what their other models are like. “Oh we don’t have any horrible bodies here,” I am told, and now I know I have completely strayed from the land of the politically correct. Which is partly a relief for the honesty, but in this case it smells of elitism, and I ask myself what is the appropriate response from me? At the time I say nothing as the conversation meanders on, and she speaks of their appreciation of fit bodies, with the strength to hold more ambitious poses. The woman I spoke to is not an organiser, just a regular punter. It’s true that when the model is really exerting their self, it can make for more compelling poses. But that wouldn’t rule out lots of older, male or larger models.
Is it for me to question who they want to draw? Is it a matter of aesthetics? And personalities? I am grateful to sometimes be among the chosen, but as someone who has run my own groups for all body types (to encourage body confidence) and gone to other groups to draw, I know of brilliant models outside of the obvious mainstream norms, and many of these would automatically be excluded from the jobs I described. Part of this it seems to me, is perpetuated by us models, picking up on the standard and only recommending similar types. After all, we want the work.
Posing one on one for an artist can be like a mini-relationship, an affair, a courtship. It might last days, span over weeks, months… Unless it’s for a commission or similar endgame, it’s very much about a connection of personalities. An exchange that is more than time and physical effort, rather an energetic connection. Sometimes it exists artistically alone, a musing inspiration, but other times I sense a girlfriend experience of sorts. Male artists with disposable income and space in their lives.
I used to be a hostess in Soho clip joints. Male clients paid excessively for time in my lingeried company, sipping expensive drinks. They likely entertained ideas of further/sexual developments. My job was to keep them there. Of course now “art” is occurring, so a higher purpose is implied, or at least perhaps a more acceptable relationship/activity. Several muses may be simultaneously on the go, alternating weeks, months, or exclusivity may be preferred for an intense period. Sharing an interest that the wife doesn’t (any longer), if she ever existed. Sometimes I am a cheap counsellor for their woes as well as indulging or reprimanding their neuroses, and providing conversation with my body to be looked at, submitted for inspection.
It can feel like that with a group of artists too. They fall in love with me a little, collectively, unanimously, and hopefully I with them. We bond for a while, over years at intervals. It is loose, casual, but they know me so well. I share brief intimacies in passing and they enjoy glimpses of my truth. Being able to be with artists in this way, to organically make this relationship work, is perhaps an unwritten skill, talent in the job description. It’s such a personal thing that is more than about looks; though I think often those talented in this context seem to share certain traits. A kind of physical beauty, and inner charm, genuine sharing without being too shy, or domineering. Exuding happy, contented, feel-good vibes. Being comfortable in this slightly old fashioned at times role.
I am sure more varied models could take on the position (and surely sometimes do) if they wanted it, but does the fit feel so natural? Do they feel accepted? Or is it just that I don’t know, and out there actually all variations coexist, with some artists choosing less typical muses, or even being less typical (and male) themselves? I hope so. I would love to hear about that. It would make me feel less like an anachronism!
I have modelled for female artists individually, but only a couple of long series which were both for committed projects where I had the desired form.
There are other groups and artists, not of this type, and fortunately now many so, who feel wholly ethical. They employ all good models and enjoy full diversity as much as is available. Every group has its own vibe to a certain extent attracting models and artists who fit in, though this is a broad spectrum. My feelings in this piece reflect my realisation that I felt more comfortable in these more I think ethical work situations. Yet there is also a place for more intimate encounters of the muse variety if not being outright physical or overtly sexual. These can be a healthy transaction, an exchange of ideas and growing friendships. It’s positive and it’s a privilege to explore connection outside of the romantic sphere (and be paid for it). It can run parallel to other relationships, offering other avenues to learn about ourselves. It’s the sort of job where you negotiate the boundaries, in terms of conversation as well as poses. What they are, for how long and when to take breaks. Do you also share meals, or go for a drink with them? Sometimes, but it usually stays professional. I mean it always does, but sometimes you become friends.
This evening was a little chilly in the Daniel Libeskind Space on Holloway Road, but at least we could move as we perused some outstanding art works of the figurative variety. It was a ‘Clothing Optional’ event and most of the guests obliged as did some though not all of the artists. It was the first time this group known as Guerilla Galleries had put on such an event and no doubt it will be a learning curve. I know myself how tricky photography can be with a group of nude people – how do you take shots that everyone feels good about for one thing? Someone’s bum is bound to look too big and other parts sag ungainly and no matter how much you tell them it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t wash. Photography is so easy today and potentially in the hands of a ludicrous number of creeps. The organisers received several complaints from those unkeen to be snapped willy nilly, myself being one of them. I don’t have a problem appearing nude on the internet. That however is different to being shot at quite surreptitiously when one is unaware. This is called rude, and technology is in the hands of plenty people who need to be taught manners! I am feeling a little matronly all of a sudden and feel quite sure that if such an event is repeated, hosts would do well to employ the presence of a few dominatrixes with the task of dealing with the too happy snappers.
I would like to show you images of art work from the event, however I will have to wait for them to be sent to me by organisers. I was really enjoying catching up with Spirited Bodies friends from several of our events and workshops as well as meeting new SBs to be, and the presence of unwanted camera work did put me off using my own even for innocent use. Plus there was after all a house photographer with far better equipment than I, so hopefully images will be shared and made public in due course.
I did download these from Facebook from 2 particularly Spirited artists’ Facebook pages – Pilar Camino Alcon has a lovely website too, and Eliza Freespirit was having lots of plasticeine fun.
By Pilar Camino Alcon
Colourful little people by Eliza Freespirit as exhibited in the 100% Nude exhibition
Little Spirited figures larging it by Faerie light
Very joyful overall so despite the technical drawback I hope they/we continue with events like these, and just keep learning. It was of course indicative of the overall picture in our society of too many creeps outnumbering comfortable and happy women. There was a gender bias in this scenario unsurprisingly, which is reflected too in the number of applications we receive from men, and women. We may alter our tactic to counter this, and be forced to make men jump through more hoops in order to have the privilege of spending time in the nude company of some of our female Spirited Bodies. I think some of the more body anxious women out there might feel safer and more relaxed to know that our event caters to them so impeccably. That men have shown their dedication to our cause and proven their worth and integrity. That men must compete for the honour of gracing the picture they complete. I think about the feminist fetish club, Pedestal (my description) and how the women who run that keep House slaves to see to female guests’ needs and desires. That those men profess a deep love for the Feminine, that they indeed worship Women as Goddesses. That has a pleasant ring to it. I will keep going back to the Women!
It was a thrill to see Andy and Nika as Marquis de Sade and his last love Madeleine during his dying days in a lunatic asylum. The Marquis can’t help his debauched imagination and the need to communicate his sordid tales to as wide an audience as possible. Upsetting the chief doctor and the priest who determine to silence him, he is relinquished of his clothes, his wine, bedsheets and finally he is separated from his hands, tongue and cock. You see they would discover his manuscripts which were exceedingly popular, and so they removed his quills and ink so that he might write no more.
Undeterred, even spurred on in his role to push limits, he used his own faeces and blood on the sheets, vestiments and walls. His fans – fellow inmates and the servant girl Madeleine, aided him in transmitting the obscene messages, but being mental, the chinese whispers passing of words caused more than a stir. One deliverer acted literally on the violent intent conveyed, and such was Madeleine’s sad demise. But in this tale some karma is realised in death as both Marquis and Madeleine return to haunt and taunt those who judged them, and of course to flirt as well! The nature of human desire is unpicked, and the tendency to judge where not we have ourselves inquired fully. The doctor and the priest are revealed as hypocrits, in particular the priest getting to know his inner sadist as the punishments advanced.
A sense of destiny is strong on several levels with this performance. Punishing the Marquis teaches the pain givers new lessons their censorship would otherwise lack. It is said more than once that this particular lunatic is running the asylum – and his genius has been misunderstood by those in authority. That artists’ and writers’ words of magnitude do live beyond the grave as the play certifies. That while the greatest imagination may conjure the realities of some powerful/elite/sorry few (i.e. e.g. paedophiles and their victims which are a theme in this show), it also resonates with widespread human desire/lust which although unrealised in many cases (depicted especially through the virginal Madeleine here and even with the Marquis himself) needs to be allowed expression, purely for its rightful place in the imagination. To limit the artist’s mind is a crime; the troubled feelings/ideas set alight in another’s head/heart are not the artist’s responsibility.
To see Andy perform this role felt so apt. Though stepping in at last minute, having to leave temporarily his position of director while sudden line learning was thrust upon him, it appeared from an old friend’s view point as a call of destiny. I cannot imagine another better suited to the role, knowing Andy as I do. For what he has always stood for and stood by, even before I i knew him as an actor, it fitted him perfectly and brought him to act opposite his real life love Nika for the first time in years.
Andy was literally stripped bare on the tiny stage before us, for daring to uphold the boldest most revolutionary ideas, and his character bore this apparent humiliation with amazing grace and charm, ennobling him further. In fact I found him gain in confidence and power as he strode and strutted nude before us, just a metre or so from the front row. Intoxicating lines well crafted by Doug Wright and uttered from the heart did mesmerise. I thought, ‘he could do anything now!’ and I believe he will. It is wonderful to watch friends flourish and bloom. I will add that the whole cast and production are spectacular; the passion is evident.
Photograph of Henrietta Moraes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Henrietta Moraes (Photo credit: Wikipedia) by Bacon
Sue MacClaine wrote her one woman show ‘Still Life’ about a life model of the ’50s called Henrietta Moraes. She performs it and poses while the audience draws. We went to Brighton on Sunday to see her.
Moraes’ world is a basket of name-drop; she dined with Francis Bacon and posed for him regularly, knew Lucien Freud and was Maggi Hambling‘s lover until she died. She wrote as well as taking her life modelling very seriously, fitted a few kids in, worked as a cat burglar, caravanned across Wales and Ireland in the ’60s with hippies and drank copiously. Like other alcoholic artists she tended to maudlin lament then startled with insane fiery presence. I thought MacClaine caught particularly well the in-the-moment quality of a psychedelic trip; the sense of continually re-arriving at the same point as it is pushed into our vision relentlessly. This worked with our need to keep Looking at her and really looking as we simultaneously drew. She wasn’t a mechanical model which is what I have found off-putting about the usual life drawing class; she was running the show and poses became infused with personality as we got taken on her trip.
She broke up the flow not always timing herself, sipping wine which convincingly loosened her, wandered into the audience, staring into our eyes. It was the relationship between watcher and watched reassessed and I loved being on the other side. Philip Herbert a life model and actor of today has his own one man show which is biographical, ‘Naked Splendour’ with its own essence being very much himself. I love that too. It’s good to see what others do to remind me how I am different and where our themes naturally overlap. I am going to return imminently to my own life drawing play.
Billy Bragg + Sound of Rum – Sun 13 November 2011 -0099 (Photo credit: The Queen’s Hall)
Kate Tempest poured wisdom in street tales of ordinary folks struggling, loving and dying in our monstrous every day world. At 26 she has a gift for slicing through character.
Her delivery is understated, her accent could have been affected but it works for her act, and she did tell stories beautifully. Her timing was accentuated by a 4 piece ensemble of musicians emoting her messages, backing her characters. We followed the narrative and sometimes she rapped with a mic, striding the stage. She looks like a child disarming with her wit, unbothered by her appearance, very casual, long curly blond hair.
It kept coming back, the theme of being real in a world obsessed by airbrushing and status – how we bow to that instead of to real people, each other. Kate captured that, by dissecting the mind of a bar maid, the true friendship between hardened criminals and other flawed ordinaries, with poetry. I didn’t cry but I almost did. Nothing in particular really. Just her general knack for teasing something about my heart. I smiled at her a lot, so glad for her talent to shine and inspire others. She can affect people and gave me shivers – that counts.
Brand New Ancients celebrates everyday heroes that we all are; surviving today, and sees the best in each and every ugly one of us, because nothing is black and white.
A matinee audience of school children applauded.
“Thing is, you’re perfect. Because of your imperfections.”
“25 is halfway between non-existence and the infinite.”
Lives of certain individuals from uncouth beginnings, random encounters, climactic violence between the afflicted, addicted and broken; to a moment of heroism and realisation. An old codger dies in Thailand not quite happy with his bride.
“The gods are right here, as farfetched as it sounds, every one’s a god, no kings, no crowns
Just us, one being, infinity, that’s holy, gods messed up lonely
Squashed stressed out dumbed down raging wasted same as it ever was
At the weekend I went to a festival called Supernormal with my punk choir, The Hackney Secular Singers. It is an experimental art and music festival in Brazier’s Park, Oxfordshire in and around the grounds of a gothic mansion which has been an artists’ commune and residence since the ’40s. Ian Fleming and Marianne Faithfull spent time growing up in its bohemian enclosure.
Choir rehearsing in the garden, Brazier’s Park, image by Jemima Broadbridge.
Terrace where we sang. Photo by Jemima Broadbridge of the choir
Musically this festival was quite geeky. Sound artists twiddled knobs in tupperware boxes with wires attached to them. Lights and torches came into the soundscape mix with light sensitive technology creating hypnotic drone music as they call it. Pedals and electrical goods littered the floor of the stage which was literally in front of our feet. The drone musician knew what each item was there for and he carefully manipulated each one. The intensity of his own immersion was like a ritual.
Other bands had ‘normal’ musical instruments, often jamming with apparently no synchronicity. A friend explained that this method allows moments of rare togetherness and tuneful episodes to shine phenomenally. Some of it was a bit ’70s prog rock; I am a Hawkwind fan so that worked for me.
It was a very uncommercial festival and too small to get lost in. It seemed like most people there were artists taking part, and there were odd processions, performative interludes and creative opportunities galore. In the mornings there was life drawing in a gorgeous old barn. People were invited to model and/or draw so there were some new models trying out, some as a duo to take the edge off. I naturally did a stint, as well as some drawing.
Campbell Works artists made and baked bread in the shape of life-size humans.
They specially built ovens to fit the cremations!
Guests were invited to a bread feast where body-pieces of the wholemeal natural yeast bread were eaten dipped in a dressing of olive oil with garlic and herbs .
Talking of body parts I especially enjoyed trying on Miracle Shapers by the artists who are Jerrica. This is participatory art about body image, challenging the idea that we obsess about body parts we dislike, in particular fat, and celebrate them instead.
http://www.jerrica.co.uk/miracle-shapers.html Artists Diane Archer and Christina Sabberton made soft golden pads in the shape of bums, boobs, willys, balls and bellys. They are stuffed inside clothes, worn on the outside for display or attached to special underwear garments.
First the boobs and behind
Boobs and bum. Luckily I had a compliant dress on
with a belly too. Jerrica probably have better quality images available soon… my phone camera being what it is
These women were so jolly. Here Diane sports all their wares available for auction at the end of their session
When I told Lucy about this she asked if the parts had the weight of real fat. They don’t, so you just get a visual impression. They are fun items designed for convenience to make a point.
I liked being able to try out the ‘bigger me’ look. It might be interesting to wear the parts discreetly and experience life as a different size with people who do not know me. How do people relate to me differently like that and how much depends upon my personality, and do I alter my personality when appearing much larger? An experiment waiting to happen!